Tennesseans can vote absentee, but USPS delays won’t guarantee ballots make it by deadline

Tennesseans can vote absentee, but USPS delays won't guarantee ballots make it on time

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Election Commissioner Bennie Smith says his DMs, emails and phone are blowing up. A lot of people, he says, want more information about absentee voting.

“My DMs are full of people saying ‘until I started following you, I didn’t know that I could vote absentee’, he told WMC Action News 5. “So you’re going to have this perfect storm happen. We have a hotly contentious presidential election. And COVID-19 is forcing people to realize a right they already had, the right to absentee vote. And that perfect storm has hit Shelby County.”

A computer analyst and software engineer by trade, Smith predicts more than 330,000 Shelby Countians could vote in November. His data shows more than half will be over age 60, meaning 160,000 are eligible to vote by absentee ballot. And all those ballots, by Tennessee law, must be mailed back.

“This mismatch creates a risk ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted,” the letter said.

When asked about already existing slow-downs in mail delivery in Memphis, USPS spokesperson Susan Wright told WMC, “We are flexing our available resources to match the workload created by the COVID-19 pandemic and some other staffing issues. We appreciate the patience of our customers.”

Postal Service problems causing concerns for Mid-South ahead of November election

Those warnings were issued before the Trump administration started removing mailboxes and sorting machines from postal facilities in cities around the country.

As a possible alternative to absentee balloting, Commissioner Smith suggested people vote early when crowds are smaller, lines are few and COVID-19 protocols are in place.

Because, said Smith, there's only one thing certain about this election.

“The president had four years to remove mailboxes to make cost reductions,” said Smith. “He picked a really bad year to pick up those boxes. November is going to be an interesting time.”

The Shelby County Election Commission started accepting requests for absentee ballots Aug. 5. You can fill out an application for a ballot through Oct. 27.

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